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Football

Mike Ekeler Returns, NT Staffs Up

Back in Seth Littrell’s first season he brought on two guys to coach the defense: Mike Ekeler and Troy Reffett. The scheme was Reffett’s but the play calls were Ekeler’s. There was some tension with (reportedly) Ekeler preferring some different calls.

In the end Ekeler left for UNC and something like a step down to coach linebackers again. His resume lists some big programs under big names (Bo Pelini at Nebraska being one) and lots of time playing or coaching special teams.

NT lost Marty Biagi as its coordinator for special teams to Purdue and while we may miss out on some highlights that go viral, perhaps that means we will also not see so many kick returns allowed for TDs.

The current make up is radically different than last year after a disappointing season. Last year we said it was practically a new staff but this is even newer. For four seasons NT went with a true standalone offensive coordinator. Now, that is basically going to be Seth Littrell *or* shared among Tommy Mainord and Mike Boesch.

All coaches are involved in game-planning to some extent but the game planning and final calls on game day are usually the coordinator who gets final approval from the head man. This season is going to be different. We do not know who is going to call the plays. Last year with Bodie Reeder leading the offense Littrell said that he would be “more involved” than in years previous. What did that mean exactly? Well, everything up to play calling.

LSU won the national championship with a highly regarded pass game coordinator taking a ton of credit without calling a play on game day. There are a lot of ways to do this and we will see something different than we saw the last few years I suppose. Mike Leach calls the plays from the sideline as the head coach but has his coordinators upstairs giving him a view of the field.

Littrell had his OC go upstairs for a better view and play-calling from up there. Mainord is the only staff member who has not changed titles in the four seasons here. He has always been listed as an associate head coach and co-offensive coordinator.

The real concern is that the players are hearing new voices all over again. Sure, they come from the same head coach but players have the most contact with their position coaches than anyone else. There are a lot of reasons why 2018 was successful, but one of them was that the staff stayed mostly intact for the two seasons before that. Is this a make-or-break thing? No. Just something to note.

Curent Staff

Seth Littrell: Head Coach
Tommy Mainord: Associate Head Coach, Co-Offensive Coordinator, WRs
Mike Bloesch: Co-Offensive coordinator, Offensive Line
Clint Bowen: Defensive Coordinator, Safeties
Mike Ekeler: Special Teams
Patrick Cobbs: Running Backs
Clay Jennings: Cornerbacks
Adrian Mays: Tight Ends
Galen Scott: Linebackers
Tate Wallis: Quarterbacks

Tommy Mangino: Quality Control, Offense
Chris Petrilli: Quality Control, Defense
Zach Womack: Strength
Lucas Lopez: Assistant Strength
Shelby McIntyre: Recruiting
Cortney Finney: GA Defense
Lorenzo Jackson: GA Defense
JD Perkins: GA Offense
Jack Tabb III: GA Offense

For fun, let us look at the year-to-year since Littrell has been here.

2019:

Seth Littrell: Head Coach
Bodie Reeder: OC, QBs
Troy Reffett: DC, Safeties
Tommy Mainord: Associate HC, Co-OC, WRs
Marty Biagi: ST
Patrick Cobbs: RBs
Clay Jennings: CBs
Adrian Mays: TEs
Galen Scott: LBs
Chuck Langston: OL
Marc Yellock: DL

Tommy Mangino: QC, Offense
Chris Petrilli: QC, Defense
Zach Womack: Strength
Lucas Lopez: Assistant Strength
Shelby McIntyre: Recruiting
Cortney Finney: GA Defense
Lorenzo Jackson: GA Defense
JD Perkins: GA Offense
Jack Tabb III: GA Offense
Luke Walerius: Chief of Staff

2018:

Seth Littrell: HC
Graham Harrell: OC
Troy Reffett: DC, Safeties
Jeff Koonz: Co-DC, LBs
Tommy Mainord: Associate HC, Pass Game Coordinator, Inside WRs
Chuck Langston: OL
Joel Filani: WRs
Marty Biagi: ST
Nate Brown: CBs
Marc Yellock: DL
Tashard Choice: RBs

John David Baker: QC
Tim Burmeister: GA
Cortney Finney: GA
JD Perkins: GA
Luke Walerius: Recruiting
Shelby McIntyre: Coordinator, Recruiting

2017:

Seth Littrell: HC
Graham Harrell: OC
Troy Reffett: DC
Tommy Mainord: Associate HC, Pass Game Coordinator, Inside WRs
Chuck Langston: OL
Joel Filani: WRs
Nate Brown: CBs
Jeff Koonz: LBs
Marc Yellock: DL
Marty Biagi: ST

John David Baker: QC
Tashard Choice: QC
Tim Burmeister: GA
Kenny Buyers: GA
JD Perkins: GA
Herschel Sims: GA
David Stenklyft: Recruiting
Zach Womack: Strength

2016:

Seth Littrell: HC
Graham Harrell: OC
Mike Ekeler: DC, LBs
Tommy Mainord: Associate HC, Pass Game C, Inside WRs
Troy Reffett: Associate HC, Co-DC
Brad Davis: Run Game/OL
Joel Filani: WRs
Nate Brown: CBs
Derrick LeBlanc: DL
Tommy Perry: RBs/Special Teams

David Stenklyft: Recruiting
John David Baker: QC
Brandin Byrd: GA
Thomas Sheffield: GA
Mason Y’Barbo: GA
Tim Burmeister: GA
Scott Conley: High School relations

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Football

House Cleaning: Seth Littrell Fires Bodie Reeder and Troy Reffett

“It is difficult any time we don’t meet our own expectations as coaches and this was one of those years. I have a lot of respect for Troy and Bodie and I’m grateful for their passion for this program and their leadership of our student-athletes. Sometimes a different perspective is needed for the growth of a program, and I feel like this is one of those times.”

There you have it in press release form. The Mean Green head coach changed coordinators just one year after hiring Bodie Reeder to replace new USC coordinator Graham Harrell.

Littrell (and Fine) has praised Reeder for his football acumen and Littrell in particular remarked at the shared philosophy that would benefit the team. “I want to be more involved and Bodie really understands what I like to do with tempo and being aggressive” he said at league media days.

North Texas had some big numbers at times but ultimately the poor execution that lingered and contributed to early non-conference losses was present into conference play. NT went scoreless in the fourth vs UAB and struggled in the red zone vs Rice.

While injury contributed to the issues and coaching changes at WR, QB/OC, and RB no doubt effected the group, a change at the top makes sense.

Meanwhile, a similar story can be told for Troy Reffett, whom Littrell defended often over the four years here. The head coach wanted an attacking, aggressive defense and there were glimpses of that vision realized last year when EJ Ejiya, Brandon Garner, Nate Brooks, and Kemon Hall led a defense that got sacks and forced turnovers.

This year the roster is young and mistakes can be attributed to youth and inexperience. The overall fact is that the defense still made a lot of mistakes and the game plan was inflexible. NT brought a lot of pressure but it did not put the defense in a great position.

Example: NT bringing extra pressure vs Rice and QB Tom Stewart being unaffected by it, and finding his big WR in a size mismatch.

As with most things, when it worked it looked genius. When it did not, it looked awful. I do not know that Reffett lost his job because of the performance this year, but maybe because of the overall direction of the program.

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General

Mean Green End Disappointing Season, Mason Fine’s Last Game

The entire season can be summed up in the third quarter game-losing interception: tough scenario, bold plan, terrible execution, awful result.

North Texas kicked off the last season of Mason Fine’s collegiate career with much fanfare. There was a little G5 Heisman talk, some beat writer-led division hype, and the lingering good feelings from back-to-back nine-win seasons.

Instead North Texas finished 4-8, with three straight losses. Seth Littrell and Mason Fine produced their second losing season in four season’s time and miss out on a bowl game for the first time.

Readers of this fine publication will no doubt remember that we warned and cautioned and talked about how when we talk about the wins that could have been we have to acknowledge the losses that were nearly there as well.

Two seasons ago the Mean Green went to the league title game and lost. The louder part of the internet fandom complained that it was the beginning of greatness but it was a few bounces away from being nothing.

This season felt like that one — but with all the bad luck and none of the good. It was difficult to enjoy but Mason Fine said the right things about it in the end. “It wasn’t the way we wanted it to go but that’s life and that’s football.”

It is true. Life does not always reward hard work with triumph and immediate glory. The “mysterious ways” cliché comes to mind.

For supporters and interested parties, it was difficult to enjoy. There is little shame in finding something else to do besides watching a seemingly meaningless game in a losing season.

It did mean that Fine got to go out like Lance Dunbar and Patrick Cobbs: in front of empty crowds.

Ultimately it reinforced his feelings that the people he cares most about are the guys in uniform with him that went through the grind every day. “I’m excited to see what [his teammates] do. They are going to become better men, husbands, and fathers because of this season”.

Sure.

We all want to give a greater meaning to our efforts to justify it to a critical eye, and yes, every moment can be learned from in some small way.

Ultimately, the program put together a bad season and fell victim to its weaknesses: limited depth, unbalanced recruiting, coaching turnover, and well, some misfortune. Oh yeah, and the other teams played well on the day.

Another truism: If this was easy they would not pay the coaches so much.

The young defense was learning big the seemingly stacked offense sputtered and cane up short too often. Last week NT could not score the game winning TD against Rice despite having the ball in the red zone.

This week NT threw a game losing interception in the third, because the offense got shut down and sacked too much.

Seth Littrell said he was proud of the team because he saw effort and fight. That’s all we want out of anything we spend our precious attention on. Let us applaud them.

It has been clear since about midsession that the real root causes were systemic and not something that would be fixable in-season let alone in-game.

Yes, Jyaire Shorter and Deonte Simpson grew as recovers, but it was not enough to get the offense unstuck for long periods. The line was still allowing sacks, still snapping low or high, and they were not going to be able to improve quick enough for it to matter. There were big numbers but the inability to get first downs and touchdowns in the fourth against Rice and UAB were the reason for the losses.

It’s Blame Season across the nation and coaches are getting ready to pack up and move. NT fans want Seth Littrell to do like Herman at Texas and fire the defensive head man. There are more still that want Bodie Reeder gone for the sin of coaching Mason in a losing season.

Littrell practically turned over his coaching staff last off-season and the scientist in me dislikes the idea of changing another variable. The offense will be led by a new QB — one of Jason Bean or the other guys or maybe a transfer? — and so much change while breaking in yet another staff sounds like a recipe for another losing season.

Note: It has since been reported that Bodie Reeder is out as offensive coordinator, but that has yet to be confirmed by the program.

That said, the strength of the team was not well, strong. That means there is some soul-searching. The good news is that Littrell and his staff are the kinds of people that are willing to put in work and take accountability.

For the fans and stewards of the program that means adjusting expectations a bit. Do we want progress or perfection? If the former (as it should be) then we must acknowledge that progress is not always linear.

So while we should not blindly demonize a set back season, we also should not blindly trust every and all decisions. Littrell hit big on Harrell and Fine, but maybe not so much on Reeder (pending) and has some work to do building a more consistent defense.

Recruits like Simpson, Shorter, Tre Siggers, KD Davis and the young guys have impressed while some of the transfers have not. Compared to the rest of the league NT is in good shape. Finding one QB is a hell of a way to get a program on its feet. NT did that. Finding the next one is how a career is made. That’s yet to be seen.

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Football

Athletic: Bodie Reeder Out As Offensive Coordinator

Chris Vannini of the Athletic reports that Bodie Reeder is out as coordinator immediately following a mistake-filled showing in his first year in Denton.

More to come.

Vannini updated his report to include Troy Reffett as well.

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Football

Seth Littrell Just Needs To Win

Forget the hot takes.

Like most things, winning is the answer. Doing the little things in practice, recruiting, developing, and building relationships is how you win. This has all been documented and proven over and again.

There is a bit of luck involved, and sometimes some coaches get more luck than others and people rate them higher than others but we usually figure out who is doing the little things right and building a sustainable program.

Seth Littrell and his staff — and the administration — have done a ton right. North Texas is 7-2 and has 4 games (bowl game counted here) left to get three wins to reach the 10-win mark for the first time in school history.

Just five years ago the program reached a bowl for the first time in _ten_years. Since Littrell was hired he has reached bowl eligibility three straight years.

Where this blog was once giddy at the thought of a bowl, we are now nonplussed. Just like the players.

That is an accomplishment!

North Texas football is blasé about being bowl eligible!

I do not know what you think a “Power 5” school is like, but it is much like these G5 programs just with more TV money. “Power” means “Money” for all intents and purposes. It means there is more pressure because you are on TV each week and instead of losing a rough game on ESPN+ it will be on ESPN2 maybe.

Beyond that, not every P5 school is alike. Much as no G5 school is alike. Rutgers and Washington State are not on the same boat as Michigan and USC but yet they are in the same conference. One hired a good coach and spent the money and is ranked in the top 25 and the other spent money and hired a bad coach and is a laughing stock.

Seth Littrell learned from the one with the good record in case you were wondering.

What else are we talking about this bye week?

Categories
Football

Link: The Athletic on NT’s Special Teams

The Athletic has been a refreshing take on college football writing. They’ve decided to get into the bowls with some interest and that is good for our favorite little squad.

Matt Fortuna took a look at the Special Teams and Marty Biagi. It is a good read ($). The piece is interesting in getting a look at how different Marty does his special teams coaching — an emphasis on repetition. It does bring up some questions about the previous set up with Tommy Perry.

While we have been critical of Biagi, his efforts are bearing fruit. The blocked kicks and the scores on special teams were missing for a while. Still, there have been real problems in this area — allowing back-to-back kick return scores, and getting FGs blocked.

In January, Seth Littrell will sign a new assistant and I wonder if he will hire a guy to coach TEs and RBs and give himself more time to be a generalist.

We shall see.

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Football Football Recaps

Ugly Wins Are Wins: North Texas 45 ODU 38

Mason Fine saw the rush, stepped up, scrambled to his left. He found daylight to his left and sprinted toward it. He began his slide and NT was safely in the win column following some cursory kneels.

Why was NT in need of a 3rd-and-8 scramble to win things? Well the reason is a long and terrible story that involves Marty Biagi coordinating a unit that kicked to Isiah Harper a second time after he returned a kick 97 yards for the inital score.

North Texas is 5-3 on the year, 4-1 in conference and yet there is a pall over this win. It was ugly and no one is happy with anything group that played. Still ugly wins are necessary wins and much more desireable than pretty losses. This North Texas team controls their destiny in the CUSA West division and that is quite the accomplishment.

When anyone outside of the Mean Green Family asks, your response should be ‘5-3, 4-1’. The internal self-reflection and doubt will stay in-house.

The Game

The Mean Green were expected to dominate this overmatched ODU team at home at Apogee fairly easily and looked to be on the way toward that end early. Mason Fine was hot, completing his first eight passes including a 34-yard TD to Rico Bussey.

The first drive went 77-yards on 13 plays in 4:55 and saw Jeff Wilson get the TD.

Despite allowing ODU’s Isaiah Harper to score on the ensuing kickoff, NT seemed unfazed. The Bussey TD drive went 68-yards in 4 plays. ODU would punt as the defense looked like they wanted blood. Then . . . NT thew an ugly interception. Mason Fine was hit as he threw and added his eigth interception on the year. He has now thrown at least one in the last four games, and five in the last four (all in conference play).

Still NT would score again on a 75-yard drive on 9 plays. Mason Fine was hot, and NT was moving the ball easily only facing one third down on the drive (3rd and 1, converted by Evan Johnson). The blocked punt on the next drive put NT ahead 28-10 and twitter was feeling good. This was exactly the kind of game we all expected and NT probably needed after being torched in Boca Raton.

However, incredibly NT kicked to Harper again. He scored from 98-yards out and Jeff Wilson fumbled after an 8-yard gain the following drive. ODU kicked a FG and this ‘blowout’ was only an 8-point lead at 28-20.

NT went three-and-out, getting sacked by ODU’s Rotimi killing the drive and a near-interception averted by Guyton’s effort to fight off the defensive back. Andy Flusche got the tip-drill interception he should have gotten against SMU.

The NT defense had saved the day. Nic Smith dove into the endzone to cap the 30-yard drive (7-plays). NT was up 35-20. After another ODU 3-and-out that included a big Eric Jenkins stop, NT got the ball back with 4:11 left and a chance to pour it on.

Instead, the drive stalled after three incompletes and a no-gain from Smith. Then the unthinkable: Trevor Moore missed a kick wide left. ODU had their first decent drive of the half to make it 35-23.

The Monarchs were expected to be able to move the ball somewhat, considering the talent and the coaching staff, and they managed their second good drive of the game to open the second half — 9 plays for 66-yards to make it 35-30. NT followed with a 3-and-out thanks to a Bussey penalty that was iffy.

Eric Jenkins seeminlgy stems the tide with a great interception. Nic Smith actually ran for long TD but it was called back thanks to a mystery personal foul penalty on Jordan Murray. NT would stall out after 9-plays, 53 yards and 2:57 after Nic Smith was stopped on 4th and 1 from the ODU 35.

ODU then pulls out their third great drive to pull ahead 38-35. Steven Williams morphed into the talented player he will grow into on these drives, moving the ball well and firing some big time throws. His 3rd-and-11 pass to Jackson for 27 yards was ridiculous. He converted one other third and long and capped off the drive with a 10-yard rush and the threw for the conversion.

ODU had scored 18-straight points.

NT punted after four ugly plays — the exception being the 22-yard pass to Bussey.

Here is where it got interesting: ODU had the ball at the three, drove to the 29, and then Tillman Johnson forced the sack-fumble that was recovered by Hambone. NT got inside the 10 before stalling out and kicked the tying FG.

Then began the first of three 4th and 1 stops for the NT defense.

Stop One

Old Dominion moved the ball 24 yards but was stopped on 4th and 1 by Andy Flusche and Rod Young. NT followed that up with a 4-play, 48-yard TD drive that saw Nic Smith score from 20 yards out. Bussey and Guyton got two first-down big pass plays that moved the chains and opened things up. NT was up 45-38.

Stop Two

Old Dominion followed the score with another 7-play 21 yard drive but Dee Baulkman cam up with two huge plays back-to-back. He first stopped Gemonta Jackson’s catch-and-run to 3-yards on 3rd-and-3, then got a pass break up on 4th-and-1.

With 2:11 on the clock NT opted to … pass? Yes, NT’s play calls:

Run with Nic Smith
Pass attempt
Pass attempt

NT punted. Just :55 of the clock was used.

Stop Three

After two rushes for two yards total, Williams completed a pass To Travis, Fulgham for seven yards. NT had thier third straight 4th-and-1 and stuffed Jeremy Cox for no-gain.

NT ran twice and on third-and-8 mason Fine ran for nine. Then the kneeling began.

Let us review things:

Offense

The numbers show a good performance: 460 yards, 309 passing, 151 rushing and 24 first downs. The problem was that the majority of that came in the first quarter: 224 yards, 173 passing, 51 rushing, 12 first downs.

The Mean Green had two turnovers, three three-and-outs, and were 42.9% on 3rds.

Mason Fine was harrassed after the first quarter, and the run game was nonexistent. We have to credit the ODU pass rush and the their staff for keeping Guyton away from the deep stuff he has feasted on earlier in conference.

The glimpse of the offense with answers was there, as Rico Bussey had himself a game. Turnovers and sloppy play aside, the offense was good and probably the best unit overall.

Defense

Three straight stops on 4th and 1 is not insignificant. The defense had the spotlight on them and stepped up and won this game late. The 18-straight points by Old Dominion are concerning but are nothing out of character. The next step from this offense is creating turnovers. This game presented an opportunity to take advantage of the youth and inexperience of Steven Williams and the defense came up with three takeaways.

This is good. If circumstances were different, this would be the story. The two kick off returns made the defense’s lapses more stark. Still, the three straight stops were evidence of the improvement over last year.

Army managed conversions to win the Bowl game. This defense stopped UTSA and ODU to allow the offense to win things. The defensive line is good, and should have the advantage against the rest of the schedule.

Special Teams

Special Teams were mostly bad but also had two super positive plays that resulted in 7 points. The bad was obviously the two kick off returns for scores and the missed field goal.

Three negatives and two positives. This phase nearly put the game in danger, and put the defense in a precarious position. Marty Biagi has drawn the ire of the fans. Without more insight, there is not much we can know about how or why this group has been struggling. Is it preparation? Is it the talent? Is it practice time?

Coaching

Seth Littrell’s team came out and underperformed in the last two weeks. Given the Lane Train is at full steam, it is conceivable that this was the weird and strange week and Boca Raton was just an ass whooping.

Regardless, ugly wins are wins and wins are all that matter in this game. Seth Littrell has guided a young team to the top of the division with the second best offense in the league. There is a good amount improvement to be had. It is important to remember the relative inexperience on this staff — Seth Littrell is in his second year, Graham Harrell also. Reffett has coordinator experience.

Overall this staff has done well and the bad — what of it there is that we can directly pin upon them — is understandable. This is Year Two after the worst year in NT history. The team controls the CUSA Title Game destiny and that should be remembered as we complain about the quality of win.

Next

La Tech beat Rice 42-28 to get to 2-2 in the league. A loss in Ruston would put NT at the mercy of La Tech’s schedule and probably would force the Mean Green to root for FAU against the Bulldogs. A win, however, would essentially sew up the division title. While there are games to be played UTEP and Rice are not the toughest challenges.

You might call it a semi-final before the title game. A win against a good solid team on the road is just the sort of next-step challenge. It is the biggest game of the season.

Categories
Football Football Recaps

One More FAU Thought

We have to close the book on the last game. It will be useful to look back when and if the time comes where FAU is the opponent. Until then there is much to play for and little to learn from continually picking at the scab.

Still, lots of questions were asked, fireings were suggested, and cool was lost. That is understandable considering the circumstances: North Texas allowed 804 yrds of offense and 69 points. There are things that can be learned.

1) What happened with the defense?

Well, a few things happened. We’ll focus on the first half. Broadly they are these: The offense did them no favors. They were tired. They were not in position. They were unlucky.

To begin things, Mason Fine stumbled and Jeff Wilson bobbled the exchange on 4th down. On the next drive Mason Fine threw an ugly interception. (No favors)

FAU got the ball in good positon and quickly. FAU continued to quickly run their offense, with only little resistance. Because so much of their offense is short passes and inside runs, it is very easy to run quickly. This tired the defense quickly.

Jason Driskel ran his offense with little pressure in his face, and the runs were not stuffed in the backfield. Troy Reffett could not get penetration with his front three/four, and brought pressure. FAU was ready for this and had slant/flat combos, short screens, quick outs, and mesh plays to counter these.

For Driskel, it was pitch-and-catch. They mixed in one or two deep tries and hit the big one early.

So what little pressure there was was slowing and what little flow to the ball was slowing as FAU kept the tempo high. It is like doing high intensity interval training. Sure, it was just a few more minutes than NT had the ball but it was quick and intense. (Tired)

Finally, even early when NT had energy, there were breakdowns. FAU faked a read option and instead lead with the back. Instead of reading the end — in this case Ashton Preston — Buddy Howell would lead fake taking the handoff — which would make NT’s backs flow with him — but then cut back and lead for Driskel. EJ Ejiya would then have to flow the farthest to make the stop, as Preston force the run inside. This is how Driskel was the leading rusher early. Aside from that, Garner and McMasters missed tackles. That was being out of position.

The last realistic shot NT had of getting back in this thing was when down 24-7 and forcing a 3rd and long. The refs did not call the receiver down, and McClain tried to strip the ball. It bounced forward and FAU recovered just two yards short of the marker and went for it. They got it and would go on to score with the same offense. NT looked beat, the offense then threw yet another interception (on a clear PI) and then the rout was on. (This was the unlucky and more fatigue)

2) What happened with the offense?

The line was dominated, Mason Fine was inaccurate, and FAU was more excited to play.

NT’s line has been doing a decent job keeping Mason Fine upright, and only looked vulnerable against UTSA’s future NFLer Marcus Davenport. In this one, the line allowed a little too much trash in Fine’ space which made him scramble a bit more. He is not the best when running and throwing (few are) and he threw his first INT while getting hit in the face. (Line dominated, MF innaccurate).

Also on that pick, Rico Bussey kind of let the ball be intercepted. Did he know the DB was right near him? That was either poor effort or poor awareness. Either way, it resulted in an easier interception than was warranted. (FAU more excited to play)

3) Coaching mistakes?

Yes. Seth Littrell was really weird in his messaging after the game and at this week’s press conference. He suggested the reason the team was poor was ‘overconfidence’ but suggested the team had a good week of practice. Where, exactly was the overconfidence on display? It seemed like FAU had answers and enthusiasm for everything and were confident in their ability to execute their game plan. That’s good coaching.

Without having direct access to the practices, dorms, and private moments of each and every member of the staff and squad, it is impossible for anyone to say what, exactly, was the direct impact of overconfidence on the game.

I think everyone assumes he meant the players, but I have a feeling he meant the staff as well. He has also mentioned he wants to give the ball to Jeff more. Jeff Wilson had room, and could have really had a big day if he were featured more. Obviously this comes down to overall offensive execution, as more first downs mean more opportunity for Jeff and everyone. Still, he and Guyton were contained without too much effort by FAU.

There are a lot of similarities between the Briles offense and the Air Raid, in that the core philosophy is of execution at tempo. FAU executed their handful of plays beautifully and flawlessly. NT did not. A good portion of that had to do with the belief in the scheme. FAU came out and played like they knew exactly what they wanted to do and how, and with full confidence that it would work.

Defensively, NT looked like they were reacting instead of setting the pace. This is in stark contrast to the attacking, pressing, defense that Reffett wants to coordinate. Sure, we can probably point fingers at the players but that is the easy thing to do. If we know anything about Briles and Kiffin is that they have coordinated good offenses in their careers. That they produced a unit that executed and put up very large numbers is unsurprising.

Our staff did not have any answers for that.

On the other end, NT’s offensive gurus were shut down for the first half. FAU’s coaches had answers for our questions.

Even if it was simply desire and confidence, those are coaching areas. Nick Saban spends his entire time obsessing about the appropriate attitude for winning. If this team was overconfident, then it is not unreasonable to ask if the appropriate measures were taken during the week to correct for that. That’s also coaching.

Honestly, there is little shame in getting beaten. If the other staff outschemed and outprepared you, that happens. Littrell is early enough in his career where this will not be the first time this kind of thing happens, although I do not think it will be to this level of rout.

ReWatch the FAU first half if you must, here, while it is available.

Categories
Football

2017 Season Preview: Coaching

Seth Littrell did such a swell job that he earned a raise.

Littrell and company did not lose as many games as they should have and that was good. Some of it was the conference, and some was luck, but the rest is rightly attributed to the staff. So they are deserving of their raise and their new gigs respectively.

There is a line of thinking among the Littrell skeptics that his performance was replacement-level and that selling your ideas to a team that went 1-11 is not the most difficult task. This is not completely unreasonable. Crisis change is the easiest flavor of change to sell, and the staff often pulled the “1-11” card on the players when motivating — “That kind of attitude gets you 1-11 right there”. The real work was in in restocking and organizing the roster. The staff showed an eye for evaluation as they picked up contributors even late into fall practice — Jenkins, Hood — securing season-changing talent on either side of the ball.

The challenge now is building on the momentum, blending in the new blood, and keeping the message fresh.

Littrell and OC Graham Harrell will try to show that the offense is wide-open, and is a version of the Air Raid instead of just telling us. While the turnovers and mistakes that plagued the offense last season are generally in the category of ‘coaching’, it takes more than a season to improve the roster and coach up players. QB Mason Fine will have higher expectations put upon him, an we will be able to evaluate Harrell as a QB developer. Harrell is a Texas CFB legend — if not a national one — and his challenge will be in translating that to Fine. It is a more difficult job than most expect.

We should expect to see a smarter team, and not one that manages only to play hard.

To that end, the defense now only has one man running the show: Troy Reffett, the 335 Stack guru who wanted a more aggressive defense than former DC Mike Ekeler was comfortable with. Everyone from Littrell to former defensive players say the new scheme will be more aggressive and exotic.

New faces Chuck Langston, Jeff Koonz, Marc Yellock, and Marty Biagi have some relatively big shoes to fill. While a 5-8 season is not something a coach is particularly proud of, the outgoing coaches all moved up and out partly in recognition of the quality performance they put in. They were generally well-liked all around.

This staff’s self-proclaimed strength is competency in development and having an eye for evaluating talent. As NT has drifted toward the lower levels of the recruiting big boards, this needs to be true for continued success in Denton. The newly stocked roster did not make headlines on national signing day, but it did bring in some fresh recruits with lots of talent at key positions. We may not see the full payoff for their recruitment efforts this season, but we should see some of the new talent shine early on offense.

Categories
Football

Football Staff Changes – **Updated Again**

SB Nation rightfully points out that the post-signing day shuffle is anti-athlete.

As a practical matter, it makes perfect sense for everyone to perform their job for the program and the school and recruit the best guys they can. However, it is naive to think these coaches are selling the kids on the benefits of the campus and not on the relationship with the coaches. Tom Herman is out here telling you it is about the relationships.

Now that players have inked away their rights to change their mind without penalty, the coaching staffs that have recruited them now begin to look out for their own interests. This could be resolved if we gave players a bit more agency in the process, and schools were able to incentivize them beyond a stipend and a nice gym.

North Texas already lost offensive line coach Brad Davis to Florida, and the little birdies are telling Vito and this blog that one of the defensive staff is leaving — Ekeler? Reffett?

If it actually comes to pass that the defensive staff changes a bit my gut — and those little birdies — tell me that Ekeler will be the one going and Troy Reffett will be the one staying. The 3-3-5 scheme is his specialty, and his attaching, blitzing philosophy is in line with what Seth Littrell has in mind.

UPDATE Feb 9th 12:47pmFootball Scoop reports that it is indeed Ekeler.

North Texas: With Mike Ekeler leaving for North Carolina, sources tell FootballScoop the Mean Green will promote assistant head coach/safeties coach Troy Reffett to defensive coordinator. Reffett served as co-defensive coordinator in 2016. North Texas also plans to hire former Cincinnati co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Jeff Koonz to coach linebackers.

Koonz’s resume is good, as he’s coached under some good mentors including defensive guru Gene Chizik (He was once a really highly rated coordinator, y’all). He coached at winning programs (Auburn in their undefeated year, Texas Nat’l Title,) at La Tech, Iowa, and now Cinci. The range of experience at places is good, and so is his time under quality coaches.

From his bio
COACHING CAREER
Year: School – Position
2003: Auburn – Student Assistant
2004: Auburn – Defensive GA
2005-06: Texas – Defensive GA
2006: Texas – Linebackers
2007-08: Iowa State – Secondary
2009: Texas – Quality Control
2010-13: Louisiana Tech – Linebackers
2014: Cincinnati – Safeties
2015: Cincinnati – Linebackers
2016: Cincinnati – Co-Defensive Coordinator/LB

Update 2.9.17 12:58pm — Football Scoop also reporting Derrick LeBlanc took a gig at Kentucky:

Kentucky: Sources tell Football Scoop North Texas defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc is expected to join the Kentucky staff in a similar capacity.

I agree … mostly. Generally speaking you want coaches to stay for longer than a year. At a place like Oklahoma, where Bob Stoops has been coaching for ages, a quick DC change is not a huge deal. At NT, where the entire staff is new, this could have bigger ramifications. As I mentioned on the podcast this is part of the job: finding players, and replacement players and finding staff, and finding replacement staff. Seth Littrell did a good job the first time around. Let us hope he does the same this next time.

Tally

Out

  • OL coach Brad Davis — to Florida
  • Co-DC/LB coach Mike Ekeler (RIP Fake Mike) — to UNC
  • DL coach Derrick LeBlanc — to Kentucky
  • ST/RB coach Tommy Perry by mutual decision

In

  • LB coach Jeff Koonz (reportedly).
  • Troy Reffett slides over to the sole DC spot, and probably will have some big input on the hires for the defense. He already has a guy he coached at the DB coaching spot in Nate Brown
  • ST coach Matt Biagi